Rustam Khalfin

Artist bio
Works of various periods

Bayan Barmankulova, catalogue “Rustam Khalfin”, published by the Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan, 1995, Almaty

Rustam Khalfin is an architect, inclined to verify harmony with algebra, and a painter for whom color is a way to imagine the world, not to copy it. Rapidity of movement in the information field of culture does not cause harm to the profundity of comprehension of new ideas. The theoretical and practical focus of the artist is always on the crest of the wave. His interest in symbolic forms, the genesis of the dome and yurt took Khalfin to the least of the Russian vanguard artists: Vladimir Sterligov (1904 – 1973), a disciple of Malevich. Khalfin was most influenced by the idea of the “Bowl-Cupola” which was the name Sterligov gave to his system where he stressed: “A straight line is division of the world, a curve is the joining of it”. Khalfin learns, under Sterligov, the possibilities of color in the building of form and anti-form. The period of pupilage is over, henceforth he draws on his knowledge of the universe.

The outer world is of interest to Khalfin: he is attracted by the concealed essence of natural objects, invisible, but intuitively realized laws of the universe; by the appearance of a new quality on the boundary of phenomena, through objects perceived both internally and externally. The artist indicates an object with a reduced silhouette, and the silhouette asserts itself in the structure of the object: a portal, an arch, a wall, a vault. In each canvas, irrespective of the motif, there appears a lucid, harmonious world, a graphic model of the universe.

The bowl has shattered again, the border between the internal and the external is no more, the space has become uniform again, but every fragment has a memory of the whole, whereas the line of the breaking gravitated towards being joined. The bowl proved more interesting when broken. There arose a desire, in the artist, to convey these collisions. The series “Fragments” represents the artist resolution with this problem. The concept seems simple, but the attempt to transform a void into object is rather wayward. What the artist attempted to depict is the thought of vacuum: the space within the enveloping form, inside the temple, held in the amphora, formed by the bowl, in the guitar. Oriental philosophies conjure the notion of an anomaly of vacuum-fullness, parallel to the “loaded” pause as a significant element in music, or speech.

Color forms of different configurations appeared in the picture space. They get lost in the space, they constrict the space, and sometimes almost merge with the background. The field of vision expands, then contracts to the border of the eye. Color, light bearing and spatial, becomes the vehicle of nonmaterial in material, a herald of the idea and spirit.

As he analyzed the theme of fragments, Khalfin realized upon the paradoxical and ironical possibility that everything is fragmental, including man who feeds on fragments of knowledge, of the past and present cultures, the life experience of his own. He is not engaged by tradition, not fearful of authorities, but open to the world, free in his associations, active in his search for his own detached view. For example, a sheet with Sterligov’s reasoning about the metaphysics of looks”; the picture “Meninas” by Velasquez; the chapter “court ladies” from Foucault’s book “Worlds and Things”; the notion of hieroglyph as perceived by the Oberiuts (a group of Russian poets), all of which came together in the artists mind, hand and eye. He produced a new series based on his ruminations over fragmentalism to depict his unique hieroglyph of Menina.

At Malevich’s exhibition, Khalfin’s attention was drawn by the table from the fragment of the “Family Portrait” by Matisse. What he saw aroused a comprehensive chain of associations: Matisse, Central Asian miniature, a Russian icon. This resulted in a number of response-pictures: “double Fragmentation of Matisse”, among other. In the process of the creation there appears a lot of associations with other great minds in the art world. Duchamp, DaVinci, Malevich, Matisse, in which the original works collided with the copy, the profane with the sacred, “pars pro toto” with freedom.

Khalfin combines anomalies, such as in the word pulota which is a new Russian term in which the word for void/vacuum is united with the word fullness. Pulota indicates a spyglass of fanciful configurations which appeared in the artist’s pictures’s ten years ago. At that time, the “death of the picture” was proclaimed by the conceptualists who support the creative concept over the physical form in art. This caused the artist to re-access the theoretical basis of artistic problems which now threatened to marginalized the artist in the development of contemporary art. As a result of his explorations, he now depicts his bodily presence in the picture’s space as opposed to merely representing a neutral form as a vehicle for an idea: he is in effect, a form through which an idea or feeling is perceived, the physical object as a vehicle for an idea: he is in effect, a form through which an idea or as a vehicle for the non-corporeal. His object of representation is now a revision: the artist examines himself as intently as we examine our body in the early childhood, and through pulota, vacuums and profound pauses, depicts a humorous optical device “Eroscope” to convey his point of view.